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A vaginal speculum is a medical instrument used to dilate the vagina for examination of the vagina and cervix. This medical instrument can also be used in examinations of the anus, although specialized anal specula are also available. Many medical instrument manufacturers produce specula, which are available for sale through medical supply catalogs. Some women's health centers also sell these devices to their patients, for women who are interested in performing vaginal self exams.
Specula in general are a family of medical instruments that are used to visualize the interior of the body by inserting the instrument to get a better view. In the case of a vaginal speculum, the instrument includes a blade that is gently inserted and used to dilate the vagina to make it easier to see. Classically, medical professionals use a two-bladed speculum that resembles the bills of a duck, with a locking handle to manipulate the blades, although single blade vaginal specula are also available.
Clear plastic specula are preferred for examination, because it is easier to visualize the area when using this tool. These specula are disposable, designed to be discarded after use with a patient. Metal specula are also available, and must be cleaned and autoclaved between patients. Specula come in several different sizes, to accommodate women with vaginas of various sizes. Especially small versions can be used for examinations when a woman has an intact hymen.
To use a vaginal speculum, a healthcare professional has a patient scoot down a gynecological exam table after putting her feet in a pair of stirrups. The medical professional usually examines the external genitalia before having the patient take a deep breath. As she breathes out, the medical professional can insert the lubricated speculum in the closed position, and gently open it before locking it in place. The device will stay in place, allowing him or her to take samples and examine the area before unlocking the speculum and gently withdrawing it.
The speculum is held open with hand pressure while it is withdrawn, and closed only when it is completely removed. Closing the device before it is removed can pinch the delicate mucus membranes of the vagina, which can be extremely uncomfortable. It is also important to make sure that the device is fully closed when it is inserted for optimal patient comfort. Women can use the same procedure described above to perform a self exam, with the assistance of a mirror to see once they have placed the speculum.